10 Lessons Learned From 10 Years in Recovery

By
Holly Jespersen
The author on her stand-up paddle board on a cloudy day

On June 29, I celebrated a big milestone: Ten years of recovery.

I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without a lot of difficult conversations — both with others and with myself. I am so full of gratitude and know that I have been given a lot of grace to get to this point. In that spirit, I wanted to share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned along the way. Maybe they’ll help you, or someone you love, while on the rewarding road to recovery.

1. How to share my feelings — and ask for help when I need it.

This was one of the most important things I learned. I find it comes easier every time I do it and I keep doing it. I am not ashamed or afraid to express myself, or to ask for help. In early sobriety, asking for help meant getting over feeling like I was bothering people. It meant sharing in a meeting when I knew I would be sobbing through the entire share, but I also knew I needed to share how I was feeling. It is a lesson I learned early on that I carry throughout my life.

2. How to sit with myself.

In early sobriety, I couldn’t sit with myself. I could not not be busy. I overscheduled my life. My sponsor used to make me go to the beach for 30 minutes a week without my phone and sit. It was hard—but I did it. And it got easier. I began, over the years, to become more comfortable in my home by myself. The silence became my friend. I stopped overcrowding my schedule. I started to embrace downtime. I have learned to slow down, embrace the quiet and listen. It is truly a gift.

3. How to set and respect boundaries.

Boundaries? I did not even know what that word meant before finding recovery. I certainly did not have them. I also did not like when people set them. Now they come innately to me. I am acutely self-aware these days—so much so that sometimes, it’s challenging. But I am glad to know that I have learned how to be respectful of both myself and others.

4. How to get out of myself by helping others.

I learned early on that when I am not in a good place, or in my head too much, I can get out of it by doing something for someone else. It could be calling someone and asking how their day is going, doing an errand for a family member, or writing a card to an old friend. The act of putting the focus on someone else truly helps me stop my own private pity parties!

5. How to have meaningful relationships.

My friendships now are much more meaningful. I used to think I had to say yes to every invitation—now, I know that my limited free time is reserved for the ones I really want to spend time with, and I choose wisely and without guilt. My relationships before recovery did not have deep roots—they were superficial, all about partying and surface-level stuff. Today I am more of a one-on-one person, preferring to spend quality time with friends over coffee or while paddleboarding. My friendships today are a huge gift.

6. How to practice self-care.

A quote I love: "Self-care is not selfish, it is self-respect." Today I know how to care for myself to be the best worker, friend, daughter, aunt, and sponsor I can be. I know I need to exercise daily, I need quiet time, I need time outdoors, eight hours of sleep, healthy nourishment, and a recovery meeting on most days. I am a person who likes routine and so it is important for me to stick to my routine and to plan the day ahead. But I also know that my tendency is to over-commit, so I’m careful there too. My friends also help me prioritize my self-care, which has really helped me to break bad habits.

7. How to have work/life balance.

I am thankful to have a job that I love. It suits my skillset, feeds my passion for recovery and to help others, and is never boring. I also know, especially now that I am working at home, that I need to have set start and end times. There will always be work to do, but it is important for me to unplug. When I go on vacation, I unplug. I came back re-charged and ready to re-engage. It also comes down to knowing the value of what matters most. And for me, while I love my job, I also love my friends, my family, my church. I know I need to make appropriate time for each of those things.

8. How to discover my authentic self.

I honestly had no idea who I was before I found recovery. It’s an ongoing journey, but today I have a healthy sense of self. I know what I like and what I don’t like, I show up and am present for my life today. I have discovered new and old hobbies: spinning, paddle boarding, and community theatre. I used to be a chameleon, being whomever I thought others wanted me to be. Today, I have my own opinions, style, and perspective.

9. How to practice acceptance.

I know that I cannot change people or their opinions or the way the world works, nor can I prevent bad things from happening to me. I can, however, control how I react to situations and people. I have learned that it is up to me. Recognizing and truly knowing this has saved me from a lot of unnecessary arguments and heartache.

10. How to be less reactive and more discerning.

Learning to slow down is a work in progress with me. I still get a text and my gut says that I need to react right away, but I have learned that that is not necessary nor is it always the best course of action. Sometimes I need time to discern a situation, sit with it, hit the pause button, either to diffuse it or simply to think about it. I don’t owe anyone an instant response. If I am going to bed and a friend texts me—I respond in the morning. If I cannot answer the phone, I let it go to voicemail and I call the person back. Learning not to jump to a decision or a response is not my nature, so this is still something I constantly catch myself on. I have a sticky note by my laptop that days "pause, pray, proceed."

 

These are just ten of the many life lessons I have lived through working a program of recovery the past ten years.

Most of all, I’ve realized that when it comes to an alcohol use disorder, it’s 10% the drinking and 90% the thinking. I have been grateful to have spent the past ten years learning how to approach life differently, to slow down, to talk to myself with compassion and to talk to others with honesty.

A life in recovery is an ongoing journey, like every life. I have ups and downs, days that are harder than others—but I also have tools to help me cope. It is a total gift to be on this journey and to help guide other people along the way. 

 

Holly Jespersen is Shatterproof's Senior Communications Manager.